"This is the year of the troops," said Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) as the House passed a $447 billion military budget yesterday.
He is right... in a sense. The budget includes a 3.5% pay increase for troops, a raise in the "hazard" rate for troops subject to hostile fire from $150 to $225 per month, and additional funds for body armor and other protective gear. The House also approved $25 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting war spending at more than $170 billion (and counting).
Given the dangers in Iraq and the Bush administration's unwillingness to heed calls for rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops, these funds are certainly needed.
But, the cost of these troop measures just crumbs compared to the truckloads of bread being given to defense contractors. The House approved billions for Cold War era systems that appear to have no function but to buoy the profit margins of large weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The Senate is not likely to pass its version of the military budget until after the Memorial Day break- but the disparities will be similar.
The House approved $11 billion in funds for three separate and equally unnecessary fighter plane programs and another $10.2 billion for the useless and unworkable Ballistic Missile Defense program. A closer look at the military budget for 2005 might lead to the conclusion that this is not the year of the troops, but the year of Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin saw its share of Pentagon contracts soar between 2002 and 2003, from $17 billion to almost $22 billion-- an increase of 28%. And the 2005 budget passed by the House just means more.
Lockheed Martin is present in most major lines of Pentagon business. It makes the Paveway GBU-12 and 16 laser-guided bomb kits used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company is the lead contractor in two of the three of the major new fighter plane programs funded in the 2005 budget-- F-22 fighter funded at $3.6 billion and the Joint Strike Fighter funded at $4.6 billion. In addition, the company is involved in multiple aspects of the administration's missile defense program-- which has consumed more than $200 billion in tax dollars in the last two decades without producing a single workable system.
Meanwhile, in the non-war part of the budget, the word is millions, not billions. The Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development was happy to tell Congress yesterday that he had found an extra $150 million to help poor Americans pay their rent.
The program- known as Section 8- was cut by about $270 million last month, endangering 1.9 million Americans who depend on the subsidy. The Bush administration calls the cut a "regulatory change," but the end result is the same- more people on the street.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities these cuts are just the beginning. President Bush's fiscal year 2005 budget calls for cutting the voucher program by more than $1.6 billion, with the cut rising to $4.6 billion (or 30 percent) by 2009.
Robert Greenstein, the executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that if enacted, the cuts would be the deepest "in any low-income program since the early years of the Reagan Administration."
Many U.S. troops serving in Iraq come from low-income backgrounds. Even taking into account the $75 a month Congress has added to their hazard pay, it is likely that (if they return alive) they will return poor and seeking assistance from the Section 8 program now on the chopping block in Washington.
In light of this, it might be more accurate to say that this is the "year of the homeless troops."
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute. She can be reached at email@example.com